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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 14 December 2013

The Art of Torture and a Poor Rendering

"Well hey, it's about my pregnant wife let me pull out my cell right now and we can call her together, Officer... what's your name again?  Can I borrow a pen, any of you civilians all around me, to take a name down? You'll love meeting my boy Jeremy, he loves his constitutional rights.  How about you, Officer? Love rights? Of course you do. I was asking about kids."

If you have never seen the movie Rendition, don't watch it on the same day as seeing The Bourne Ultimatum.  While both are Hollywood films about the darker aspects of national security, the extreme attention to detail in the title character of the former makes it much harder to connect with any of heroes in the latter.

For the record, I do not support assassination or rendition, nor do I particularly see torture as an effective tool in stopping practices like espionage and terrorism.  In fact, I think both practices are placebos worse than the disease, creating a PR nightmare for practitioners, only fueling more resentment and cause for attacks.  The whole thing, really, is a cycle of feudal escalation - the games entities like the NSA, CSEC or the CIA play in the name of national security are really just scaled-up versions of gangland machinations with cooler toys and less abrasive jargon.

But back to the movies.

There is nobody who has the superhuman abilities of Jason Bourne.  You'd need to roll up high-functioning autism, extreme social-emotional intuition, an in-depth awareness of general behavioural economics but also multiple culture variances and of course, the kick-ass fightery of a Bruce Lee (not to mention the physical indestructibility of John McClane).  I have met a few folk who work in this space and I'll tell ya, they're not perfect.  The ones who delude themselves they are tend to be the worst long-term investments.

But there aren't that many people as formulaic as you see in Rendition, either.  The performances were honest, but the writing and logic gaps of the characters were cringe-worthy.  It's as though the writers (and therefore, the production team) felt that the point they needed to make was so crystal pure they didn't want to mire it in realism.

The questions asked (and not asked) by various characters are face-plant inducing.  The whole "calls came in to a cell, ergo you're a terrorist" is the lamest, most thinly veiled excuse to render someone over.  Look at the detailed investigation into Rob Ford's acquaintances to see the sort of information one should be collating before making an assessment.  It's almost like a horror film - someone wants to scream about about following police into stairwells or going into showers, but to no avail.

But back to terrorism.

Someone will make the argument that when it becomes clear a terrorist attack is about to occur, there's no time to play nice - dirty tricks that save lives become fair tricks.

We see this kind of logic in politics all the time - pick your scandal at any level of office and behind the scenes was someone who said "we have to be quick/tough but we'll get this thing tied off and behind us."  The details were a sidebar and the consequences can always be spun with rhetoric tomorrow.

It does not work - it's trading off one one woe today for multiple tomorrow, or even more heinous, ignoring the big burning issue now only to have it blow up later.

More to the point, everyone has these grandiose visions of secret conversations in darkened booths - the fact is, a ridiculous wealth of relevant information is divulged, regularly, in random public settings like coffee shops, restaurants or even on the subway.  In other words, a lot of casual convos will have more influence on major policy decisions than evidence-based information, which at least in Canada we're stymieing anyway.

You don't need to extract and torture people for information - you need to get out there, listen and connect the dots.  It's basic Sun-tzu - if you're responding to an attack, you've already fallen behind.  

If I wanted to know what special activities someone was engaged in, I would first get the necessary legal protocols and then go through the process of getting inside a target's head, their communications flow and their narrative baseline.  Spend some time with people in different context, they reveal a lot more about their thoughts, intentions, fears, and egocentricities than they ever realize.  The true applies to information.

The goal should never be to forcibly extract information from closed minds - that's a poor approach to dismantling artificial cognitive architecture that might not be there in the first place.  If you reduce a poor person into a limbic mess, than you might as well teach the puppy tricks as expect added value.  If you break your asset in an effort to get crucial info in a short time frame, you've rendered them useless for any future uses (like behaviour change).

The Alpha Predators can keep playing their predatory game, but it's not the ones who "bend the rules" who set the future.  It's the ones who understand the inescapable laws of human nature that escape the left-right pendulum swing and push us into the third dimension that is tomorrow.

We've all gotten a little tired of the two-dimensional leaders we've had to live with of late.

Labouring Economy

People in power stuck between needing to sound confident, but not being sure what will actually work?

No sustainable way to retain old jobs that are fleeing to Bangladesh?

It's true, government traditionally has few tools to get the big players to play in their sandbox - frankly, there are lots of places in the world with cheaper labour, little regulation (like Bangladesh) and so on.

But there's no reason government needs to play by the traditional rules, either, nor focus on traditional businesses for success.

There's lots Ontario can do at all levels to get more bang for their buck, bring more people into the economy and set some world standards for the 21st century.  They just need to think differently.

Hope - For Tomorrow


We live in interesting times.

In Canada, a country that's never had much need to be innovative, there's still a strong sentiment on Bay Street and in the natural resource extraction sector that nothing's changed, the way the world works remains the same as it's been for the past age.  For these folk, youth have gotten uppity and need to start developing the skills and expectations that will help them get ahead in the real world.

Meanwhile there are some firms who are bucking the trend and doing things differently - embracing Corporate Social Responsibility not as a PR gimmick but as a core value for their operations.  They want to empower youth, not manage them.  There's also a growing number of idealistic, cause-driven or simply passionate youth going the entrepreneur route, knowing what they want to achieve and not willing to compromise their integrity for old-guard, profit-driven enterprise.

Then there's government, saddled with an increasingly impossible mandate of delivering quality services to everyone, with both everyone and the cost of service expanding exponentially.

Then, of course, there's a festering sentiment of civic unrest slowly building towards critical mass.

I've written about all this before, and will probably do so again, but the threads that will weave the tapestry of tomorrow are being unspooled now.  You just need to look beyond yourself to see them.

Friday 13 December 2013

Emotional Fatigue

I know an employer who once had an employee that was an absolute disaster - he'd swear at clients on the phone, get sloppy drunk at events and generally cause his employer and company completely avoidable grief.  I always thought it odd, as the employer was proud in a rustic way and not overly fond of poor social etiquette.  It was something that always interested me, this - how a decent man could overlook such detrimental behaviour in someone who represented him.

It was much later that I saw this man in the presence of a family member who was behaving in much the same was as the employee - drunk and disorderly in public, making a scene, embarrassing everyone, themselves and family included.    The employer had this look of almost paralyzed fatigue on his face, like this was an inescapable but unfortunate reality.

That was the moment it all made sense.  Some sort of psychological association had been made in the employer's mind between the employee and the family member - to abandon the one as a hopeless case would be to do the same with the family member.

It's a look a lot of parents have when they see their children going down dark paths or, perhaps even worse, being consumed by a mental health/learning disability condition that seems to forever shut the doors of normalcy to them.

I don't have anywhere near enough intel on what happened between Kenney and Flaherty to know the context of their spat - it could have strictly been about politics.  Flaherty's a man of discipline, though, an internalized Irish Catholic to the core - it's hard to imagine him losing his cool in such a public place over something as pedestrian as politics.

Part of me wonders if Jim Flaherty feels some degree of responsibility for the offspring of his former Leg colleague Doug Sr.  It must be painful to watch how both sons are spiralling out of control, bringing havoc to their community and also tarnishing their father's good name.

Flaherty's life has been filled with unmet expectations and surprise disappointments - he is, I think, a bit entitled to some emotional fatigue.  Meanwhile, none of this registers with Kenney - younger, more political, more ambitious, more righteous.  To his Ford is a liability to be tossed away.

At a deeper level there's a much more poignant, tragic story playing out that, hopefully, can serve as a catalyst to a renewed and open conversation about how we can do better around mental health in general.

Because yes, that is the underlying theme here.  There are no good people nor bad people just choices, and the internal hardware / external environments and accommodations that shape our moods and reactions/actions.  All of us.

This is the lesson I ultimately hope comes out of this mess.

The Constructed Self

I love Lego, I enjoy art and like everyone else, I live metaphor.  It's not hard to see why the above resonated with me.

The pic below came in second.  You can see a whole host of Lego coolness here.

The Hudak Leadership Paradox, Revisited

Tim Hudak wants to be your Leader.  What he'll do there, he's working hard to make clear: despite spending his entire working career in politics, he doesn't like government much.  Government, in his view, does a bad job managing things.  The private sector would do better.

What tricks he'll use to become Premier are clear; he's doing to do what he's always done, playing the populist card.  He'll find people and programs for voters to get mad at and tell us, "elect me and I'll punish them for you."  His last outing, this approach focused on foreign students and workers, with a side-bar about turning prisoners into serfs.  This time out, it's unions and bureaucrats he's after.

What Hudak has never articulated, though, is whyWhy does he want to be leader?  To cut stuff, he'll tell us.  To cut loose the greedy people, cut off the needy people and generally punish the other parties and those who support them. 

That's al fine, if you're the conservative base, but any guy or gal on the right can do that.  Why him?

I honestly don't think he has an answer to that question - I think that he, like many people in politics and positions of power in general, likes the idea of being in charge. 

He wants to be the boss.

That means being in a position where he doesn't need to care what people think or what personal impact his approach has, he can just get things done.

When he tell us "he'll make the hard decisions," what he's really saying is "I won't waste time thinking things through, I'll shoot first and ask questions later."

The big problem with this top-down, "so what" leadership model is that it's been widely recognized as a failure.  Boss-thinking is narrow in its scope, does a terrible job of motivating excellence in teams and, as a side bar, results in less innovation and more internal resource abuse

Remember - Hudak pushed Peter Shurman to run in a riding he didn't live in so as to keep the seat, turned a blind eye when the Shurmanator started claiming expenses to make up for this deficit and then canned him when the story broke out. 

One mistake after another, all in the name of getting ahead.

I doubt Hudak even sees how he was the architect of his own (and Shurman's, and his Party's) misery in this.  If that's how he treats one of his caucus star performers, how would he treat the civil service?  If that's how Shurman responded, how would everyone else respond?

Hudak has also refused to criticize Doug Ford for lying, bullying and now even handing out cash to his constituents.  Why would that be?  Likely because he sees Ford as a potential seat-winner, full-stop.  Just as he used to see Shurman, until he canned him.

So, let's theorize Hudak gets in with a majority and can do whatever he wants.  What happens next?

He freezes public sector wages, fires a bunch of bureaucrats and reduces the number of departments.  Everyone is put on notice - do as I say, when I say it, or you're done.  Perform above expectations with less resources, well, that's what's expected - don't expect any form of recognition for just doing your job. 

Maybe he privatizes the LCBO, OPG, sells off a bunch of provincial holdings, effectively reducing the capacity of future governments to grow again. 

The 407 is an example of how that plays out. 

Funding for non-essential services, largely funding programs for Not-For-Profits, youth engagement and entrepreneurial supports disappears.  By his logic, you throw people into the deep end and the strong performers will show you they can swim all on their own.

The public servants who aren't canned won't perform better - they'll perform worse.  It's basic behavioural economics; if you don't empower, support and provide a sense of sustainability for your team, you kill their performance.  What services remain will be less efficient, less likely to add value or provide basic connections (can't help you, not my department, try someone else) and beyond this, you'll have an increase in presenteeism and burnout. 

Firing these people doesn't open up space for more dedicated talent - it does the reverse.  That's not speculation - that's simple behavioural math.

By cutting funding to Not-For-Profits that provide front-line services that provide programs like skills development for marginalized youth or diabetes type II information and training for at-risk communities, he's going to be tearing out some key threads of the social fabric. 

Maybe he could find creative ways to encourage the Private Sector to pick up the slack, but how?  Remember, he's just killed creativity among bureaucrats.  He's going to have to outsource innovation to consultants.

Private sector consultants in a regulation-free, market-driven world are going to be focused on profit.  It doesn't matter if a reduced government opens up a competitive bidding process for undefined creative solutions - government's a shrunken beast now, so why would business want to do business with them?  The only players who will jump at bids like this are either the usual suspects who don't care about systematic solutions, but only want to tweak legislation and such to further their interests or former staff.

As a result of this starving of public resources and general innovative growth (which has never been great in Canada and shows no signs of generally improving at the corporate level any time soon) there are going to be increased societal problems, with unemployment, poverty and related concerns varying from health and mental health to crime and civil disobedience growing as a result.

No no, you might say - reduced red tape and lower taxes will encourage the private sector to pick up more employees and innovate.  Look at Ontario's already-competitive tax and regulatory environment - where's that gotten us?  Nowhere.

The only way you can motivate hiring through reductions is by motivating the kinds of front-line manufacturing/transactional service industries that have migrated to Bangladesh to come back. 

Again, forcing people who used to have meaningful employent to work in Dickensian factories is a recipe for revolution. 

Then consider the commitment to a reduced cabinet.  I guess if government is giving up on public service, then you could get away with less Ministers, but unless Hudak wants to completely decimate his Party's fortunes for all time he would need to maintain some core functions like Community Safety and Correctional Services, Healthcare and Government Services.  Just these three Ministries, in their current configuration, are unsustainable. 

CSCS is actively (and wisely) pursing proactive measures to reduce crime and improve corrections, including more training and online/social media tools, the kind of stuff bottom-line minded politicians and bureaucrats love to cut.  Without system change, you're only going to see an increase of Sammy Yatim and Ashley Smith-style cases.

Healthcare.  Hudak pilloried Deb Matthews for not reading a report, because it was convenient, but he's willfully ignoring the fact that Matthews has more on her plate than most of Canada's Premiers. 

Ontario's health system is a monster, and largely a reactive one.  The Minister's job is impossible, no one person can in any reasonable fashion stay on top of the constant crises or hope to develop structural solutions.  Health needs to be broken up into more Ministries, which Hudak couldn't do - shrinking the cabinet and all.

Government Services is going big in the Open Government, Open Data direction, which means the sausage-making process of politics will be open to all. 

Hudak couldn't afford to stick with this approach, no matter what the rest of the world is doing; after all, he's spent his whole tenure as Opposition Leader jumping on every glitch or poor decision as an excuse to call for Liberal and bureaucratic heads.

With demotivated OPS dealing with an increased workload, less communication flow and of course, Ministers that are being pressured to do and know more than is humanly possible, Hudak would need to shut down anything resembling openness lest his opponents turn the tables on him.

If you throw everyone into the deep-end, you create a crisis situation - those who can swim will get out of the pool as fast as they can so as not to be pulled down by the non-swimmers.  The non-swimmers will drown.  The majority of everyone else will drown, too, being pushed aside by the aggressive swimmers and pulled under by the weaker ones.

Whoever is at poolside won't know who's job it is to throw in a life-preserver (or be willing to take the risk of reaching beyond their mandate).  The life-preserver won't work anyway, because nobody's been inspecting it regularly.

Hudak represents the kind of tough-minded leadership we embraced in the industrial economy, when the world and work was more linear, social problems were easier to ignore and frankly, it cost less to live. 

We don't live in that world any more.  The my-way-right-or-wrong leadership model Hudak is modeling is a bust.  His policy approach is not only a proven failure, long-term politically - it's proven to make the broader social situation worse.

There's time yet for Hudak to reinvent himself and his approach before a likely Spring election, but I see no reason to expect that to change - like his Conservative colleagues Stephen Harper and Rob Ford, he's demonstrated a distinct functional fixedness to how he thinks and acts.

Leadership isn't about being liked - it's about having a vision that represents the people (in the case of a Premier, all the people in the province) and being trusted to deliver. 

Hudak has none of this, nor does he care to.  He figures what worked before will work again - get angry, get tough, pick fights, divide and conquer.

Which brings us back to why.  Hudak doesn't know why he wants to be a leader because he doesn't want to be a leader.  He wants to be the boss.

If Hudak or his senior planners thinks there's appetite for boss-type governance these days, they clearly haven't been paying attention - which is what happens when you focus strictly on low-hanging fruit.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Living On the Edge of Emergence

#LiveDieRepeat all over again!

Since we already know there are no new stories under the sun (only new retellings) you'd think that by now, we'd be more consciously recognizing the underpinning themes.

I mean, The Hero With A Thousand Faces was written in 1949 - and the concepts within Campbell's words have been winked at by countless writers over the course of history.

There's the fall.  We were better off, once - happier, more in control, stronger, healthier, more in tune with The Presence.  

There's the cycle.  Death, rebirth, the slow progress towards understanding over time.  

There's the enemy.  External, alien, inscrutable and as often as not expressed as a hive mind, like a murmuration.

There's tomorrow.  It can be represented by light, by nothingness, it can lie before us or behind us but is always a world removed from the matrix of our present.  

There's the Presence; a Force or Being that is unknowable, not the enemy but somehow beyond us all and conducting events in some purposeful direction.

And of course there's us, living on the raggedy edge.

Between us and the temporal or physical Undiscovered Country of tomorrow lies cataclysm, some horrific event we fear (or hope) will rip our world open and forever sever our connection with where we are now.  

If we can somehow navigate all these competing pieces, at the end lies emergence.


Conflict of Interest

The Mayor's brother/Councillor Doug Ford supported this position - in fact, he suggested reporters "look under the definition of conflict."

That would be a good idea for all of these folk, and a good number of others as well because I don't think the term means what they think it means.

The key word in that definition is trust.  

I know of nobody that trusts the Fords - rather, they trust the system less.  Ford has, repeatedly, admitted to lying, to not being able to account for his own actions (drunken stupours and all) and dismissed out-of-hand any concerns about his competency.  

If Chopra were an elected official, there'd be an uproar about his clear conflict of interest but so far as he's concerned, it's just business.

Trust isn't about money - it's about behaviour.  Until leaders start internalizing this concept, they are going to keep finding themselves in conflicts that don't serve their interests.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Adding Value: You Can't Script Authenticity

The Fords and Daniel Dale

It's not an easy position Daniel Dale has been put in.

For doing his job, professionally, he's been threatened, insulted and now, accused of being a paedophile.  As Dale himself states, that's the sort of over-the-top association that does not go away; it's like calling a teenage girl a whore.

The Fords can play the victim card all they want, but it is clear who the aggressors are, here - Doug and Rob.  There's no surprise in this; they have an established record of being bullies.  When they get caught or called out for it, they will deny the act of bullying, suggest it was deserved or exaggerated and always try to spin blame away from themselves and towards the person they bullied.

And then they plan revenge.

Dale had it coming, said Rob Ford.

I have been on the receiving end of bullying in different forms all my life; schoolyard thugs who would physically assault me, passive-aggressive bosses who would find ways to blame me for their oversights and of course, the large swath of political players for whom intimidation is a legitimate technique for forcing actions.

Here are some lessons I've learned about bullying over the years:

1) When you're on the receiving end, it can feel like the bully is functionally fixed on making you and only you miserable.  That's rarely the case.  As we see with the Fords, bullies treat any number of people in the same, demeaning way.  

Bullies act in an entitled, aggressive manner; the world is their sandbox and anything within it is theirs by right.  They're the Alpha Male (or female) - they get to eat the whole cake, it's you who should have learned how to bake.  There's something distinctly colonial about bullies in the way they assert themselves, whether it's in a schoolyard or at City Council.  We all know how colonialism turns out.

2) Bullies feel validated by fear.  It's a sad truism that bullies in one setting are often victims in another, possibly the home; they will bully in turn as a way to feel bigger than someone, because someone else makes them feel so small.  They want you to be afraid, they want that power trip that comes from seeing people cower when they walk by.

3) Bullying is intellectual laziness.  This ties in to the fear thing.  If you can't win an argument, if you don't have the capacity to go toe-to-toe in the realm of ideas or if you you're even weak at activities like, say, pro-social interaction or doing your homework (or reading your briefing material), getting aggressive is a way to change the channel and ignore your own failings.  

The Fords have a lot of failings they're actively choosing not to address - they get more aggressive the more these sins of action and omission pile up.  The more time and energy you put in to marginalizing and stigmatizing your opponents, the less faith you have in the strength of your argument.

4) Sympathy doesn't result in action.  This is one of those counter-intuitive things that is frustrating in the extreme, but true none the less.  People feel bad for victims of bullying, but particularly when they're peers, it takes a monumental cognitive leap to go from willing spectator (because we all naturally want to be on the winning side) to disturbed witness to advocate to interventionist.  Playing the sympathy card is the emotionally correct step to take and, frankly, should be the socially correct card to play, but we're limbic animals first and social creatures second - catalyzing action has to appeal to more reactive instincts.

5) The best way to stop a bully is to stop being a victim. This is one of those easy tropes people fall into - just fight back, and the problem goes away.  That's not always the case and not everyone is able to fight back.  Of course, you don't always need to fight fire with fire - in fact, fighting fire with water is a much more effective strategy (and causes less collateral damage, too).

I am not, by nature, an aggressive person; I enjoy solving problems, not picking fights (which has led to some interesting observations about politics, but that's a different topic altogether).  But bullying is about survival of the fittest; the point is to prove one's dominance by showing how tough one can be (with an easy target) and simply outlasting the competition.  

The worst bullying I ever experienced in my life was from this kid in highschool who was built like a rhino; he wasn't particularly smart, but he was massive and used his size to his advantage.  In retrospect, I think he had a very difficult life, and in some was as much trouble fitting in at school as I had.  At the time, though, what mattered was that whenever he would see me, this kid would slam my head into a locker, punch me from behind or generally verbally abuse and gesture aggressively at me - in much the same was as the Fords do with Dale.

People who know me well will tell you I have an enormous capacity for patience and what often seems like an endless well of endurance, but in truth I have my limits.  I remember clearly the day that the big bully on the block pushed me past mine; I was walking in to science class and he'd said something offencive and threatening.  In a black mood and feeling an urge to be the winner, for once, I said something smart and sarcastic back.  I turned to go in the door, but was nearly floored by a massive round-house punch to the side of my head, from behind.

Everyone around me expected tears, running away, something other than what happened next.

I turned around with what has since become known as my "angry face" on and looked the kid square in the eye.  I have a rather intense gaze, and it was turned squarely on those two beady eyes buried in the fleshy face of my aggressor.

"You're going to wish you hadn't done that," I said.

With an angry yet controlled voice, I continued into the classroom and told the teacher, in a voice loud enough to be heard by everyone in the room, that I had just been assaulted from behind by a coward and would be proceeding to the principal's office to make damned sure justice was served.  It was not what anyone expected - it was instantly clear that despite where the strength lay, despite the culture of teachers putting the class first, the kids second, I was in control of the situation and would not be denied.

As I left the room, the bully tried to apologize, said it was a mistake, he didn't mean it.  He was, suddenly, afraid of consequence.  This was the kind of thing Rob Ford has said when he's been called out for misbehaviour.  Again, I looked the bully in the eye and spoke with a hardened voice: "a little late for that now, isn't it?"

The kid got suspended, which wasn't unusual - it was not a punishment to him.  The thing that changed his behaviour was a clear understanding that he'd crossed my line and that there was no longer anything he could do, not even a sneak-attack from behind, that would make me cower.  He'd lost, I'd won. 

From that point on he never bullied me, nor would dare to bully anyone else if he thought I'd learn about it - for he knew there was someone out there who was smaller but stronger than he was, unafraid to take him down in the name of justice.

Which brings us back around to point #1 - bullies have many victims; the victims will come and go, be it in the schoolyard or in the political arena.  It's the bullies that have staying power, unless someone without power finds the strength to take them down.  When they do so, though, these newly-christened advocates for social justice find themselves mighty; they gain both the power and the responsibility to stop the victimization of others.

It's a David and Goliath kind of thing, or perhaps the Devil and Daniel Webster.  Someone has to take the risk and champion the cause but when they do, they'll find that's just what people have been waiting for someone to do and will join in.

See, much of Ford Nation feels like they've been bullied and neglected by the System themselves - and they're not entirely wrong.  In their minds, Rob Ford is indeed sticking up for the little guy, walking among them, taking them seriously.  The Mayor, stripped of his power by mean-spirited elites is still on their side, and that's what matters.

And it's why Rob Ford could very easily become Mayor again.  Using bully-tactics and insulting his base, throwing schoolyard insults at the man himself will only reinforce the loyalty of Ford Nation to their advocate.

If you think Ford's behaviour is over-the-top now, what do you think it'll be like if and when he has a fresh mandate from a majority of voters?  At this point in the game, who do you think he'll recruit to work on his campaign?  What tactics will he use to get Council to support his ill-conceived approaches to complex societal problems?

I completely respect Daniel Dale's position - he has no interest in the limelight, he has a job t do and just wants to do it well.  The chest-thumping and public performance side isn't his thing; if he sues the Fords, he's simply feeding their egos and giving them more fuel for their fire of social indignation.  He ends up being a focal point, which he doesn't want.

But he's not the only victim here, and many of those who are on the receiving end of Ford's abuse don't have the voice that he does.  There is no one on the landscape right now better positioned to put those bullies in their place and that if Dale doesn't do it, the Fords might not be stopped until it's too late.

He's in the spotlight already, with all sorts of unwarranted baggage slung around his neck.  People looking to validate Ford may very well see Dale as the embodiment of their villain.  But look at some of Ford's core support; these are people who have been abused by the System, seen gangs threaten their communities and pressure their children into destructive lifestyles.  How many parents want their children to grow up to be the kinds of crooks Ford enjoys the company of?  How many kids aspire to be shot to death because the only push and pull in their lives is towards violence and crime?

They don't like bullies, either.  Part of the reason they like Ford is that he's bullying the bullies.  Like many, they aren't spending time thinking about the inherent danger in this.

Ford is not their champion, he's part of their problem.  Unfortunately there's no one else for them to turn to.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  The only way the cycle gets broken is for someone to break it - that takes leadership.

The choice is yours, Daniel Dale - yours alone.

Bullying: A Genetic Problem with a Social Solution

Photo: Facebook
CFN – There’s lots of talk about bullying these days.  While it appears there is broad consensus that bullying is bad, we’re not quite sure how to deal with or even how to define it.  Is bullying uniquely a youth thing, because adults have more emotional maturity to handle aggression/not take harassment personally?  Does social media/violent TV contribute to bullying behaviour?  Is micromanagement a form of bullying?  How do we discourage bullies – and is it possible to inoculate people against the emotional stains bullying causes?  
The latest conversation has been kicked off by the heart-breaking suicide of Amanda Todd, a victim of the all-pervasive kind of bullying that has only become possible thanks to social media.  Before her it was Jamie Hubley, another high-profile youth who killed himself after merciless torment; prior to that there was Greg Doucette.  Each of these deaths shocked us into conversation and a retributive mood.  While these specific bullying-induced suicides grab the nation’s attention, they’re a bit like the Attawapiskat crisis; individual, visible examples of a pervasive, systematic issue.
One in five students in Canada says they have been bullied.  Between Canada, Australia, the US and the UK there have been 41 cyber-bullying attributed deaths since 2003.  Youth suicides are just one indicator of the social impact of bullying – in Canada, one in six employees reports they have been bullied.  This pervasive, society-wide harassment has a hugely detrimental impact on individual mental health, the economy, our health care system, families – it goes on and on.  The problem is so significant that Political Parties from across the system are trying to find ways to legislate against it. 
If bullying is such a recognized problem, you’d think we would have a clear definition for it.  Public Safety Canada tells us bullying “is characterized by acts of intentional harm, repeated over-time, in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists.  It includes physical actions (punching, kicking, biting), verbal actions (threats, name calling, insults, racial or sexual comments) and social exclusion (spreading rumours, ignoring, gossiping, excluding)”.  The “balance of power” reference is key to our understanding of bullying; without that caveat, you could easily include everything from heckling in the Legislature to the Obama Birther movement as harassment.
How then do we define “balance of power”?  The man accused of kicking off the bullycide campaign against Amanda Todd clearly had power over her, in terms of the harmful video he’d conned her into providing.  The tables turned, though, when Anonymous outted this man, shifting the balance of power against him; the bully became the bullied.  Was it bullying when the Conservative Party of Canada spread rumours suggesting Irwin Cotler was going to retire?  Heck, aren’t allattack ads a form of bullying?
Most would say no – because politics is expected to be a blood sport.  Politicians should expect to be attacked and be prepared to fight back.   It’s through the cut-and-thrust of Question Period, election campaigns and increasingly, every political interaction in between that the public can determine not only which ideas stand up to scrutiny, but which representatives/leaders are tough enough to do the job of governing.  Somewhere in here is an unspoken notion that the balance of power doesn’t apply to politics, due to individual agency and public accountability of each elected official.  This notion doesn’t hold up to scrutiny itself, though; as politics becomes increasingly aggressive, Political Parties are becoming increasingly tribal.  How can you not label as bullying the dogged targeting of individuals by entire political packs?
What about micro-managing employers?  They have power over their employees; does abuse of the employer/employee relationship count as bullying?  Again, there are those who would argue against this, suggesting that individuals always have power over their own fates and are therefore equals in the labour market. If employees are really bothered by the treatment of a boss, they can speak to them about it and if that doesn’t work, they can quit and move to another job.  If they don’t do that, they’re just playing thevictimcard.  If this were really the case, though, would we be facing an unheralded business crisis in Canada?
For me, these aren’t academic questions.  I know what it’s like to be bullied.  A December baby, I was always the youngest in my classes.  Added to this, I have Attention Deficit Disorder, a “disability” which went undiagnosed until I was well into my teens.  Being the smallest and a bit different in how I interacted with the world, I was a natural target for those on the lookout for someone to diminish as a way of aggrandizing themselves.  From about Grade 1 all the way into high school, I was on the receiving end of vicious taunts, torment and physical abuse. 
Decades later, I still have clear memories of being chased home by older kids waving baseball bats (Grade 2).  It made them feel powerful to instill terror in a runt like me.  Then there was the time I was tied to a flag post in winter and left outside after all the other kids went back to class, laughing at me (Grade 4).  It got so bad that my parents eventually moved me to a different school, but by then the damage was done.  I had become a fearful child, mistrustful of people and afraid to speak up, knowing that whatever I said would be used against me.  This hesitation morphed into a stutter, which became just one more opportunity for my peers to mock me.
When bullying is that pervasive, there is no escape.  Even when your tormentors are gone, the anxiety remains, riddling your thoughts with disquiet and doubt.  Ihated going to school.  I didn’t like interacting with others, period.  I dreaded every waking moment, never knowing exactly what sort of private hell it would bring me.  The ADHD only magnified the pain, as I could never shut down the soundtrack of doubt and self-loathing playing non-stop in my head.  Self-harm became a way out; if the pain was sharp enough, it would cleanse my mind of the pervasive anguish that nestled there like a splinter.  Of course, the relief was temporary, and the fact that I was cracking my head against my desk hard enough to leave welts simply put another arrow in my bullies’ quiver.  Suicide was definitely something I contemplated – there just didn’t seem to be any other way out.
That was then.  Today, I am a confident, positive person that has a reputation for finding the silver lining around any cloud.  There’s nothing life can throw at me that I can’t handle.  Why is that?  Why is it that my name now appears in a byline rather than having featured in a headline like Todd, Hubley and Doucette?  When moving schools didn’t solve the problem, my parents decided to try an alternative solution; fight might prevail where flight did not.  They enrolled me in a Karate class led by a tough-as-nails Sensei with the hope that learning how to fight back might help.  It did, but not in the way they intended.
My Sensei was tough, but always fair and never judgmental.  He never criticized mistakes – instead, he corrected them.  The senior students who helped lead the lessons were the same way; they pushed the class but were always, always supportive.  They taught me how to fight back, which I eventually did.  The supportive attitude of the teachers carried over to the students; we were all in the same quest for perfection of technique, together.  Although I hated the class at first, it eventually became my community.  For the first time I could recall, there was a place I felt safe and respected, plus a group that included me as one of their own.
This element of belonging made a huge difference, but Karate provided me with even more.  The strict physical discipline and quick reaction times required by martial arts nurtured in me a level of focus and confidence that bled over into every aspect of my life.  My stutter began to fade; I became more and more comfortable in asserting myself.  At the same time, the experience of having been bullied combined with the positive experience of the class shaped my understanding that individual strength is nurtured within supportive communities. 
I tell this tale not to gain your sympathy or to toot my own horn but to show that it can get better when we address the underpinnings of bullying proactively and cooperatively.  The importance of collective morale and promoting individual resilience is understood within our military, if not those who command it.  The idea of fostering social-emotional learning and positive relationships with teachers and peers is equally a key component of Ontario’s Full Day Kindergarten program.  The entire field of positive psychology is dedicated to the development of cognitive grit the way exercise builds physical strength.  There is no reason these principles can’t be applied more broadly, especially in the places where bullying is most prevalent – schools and the workplace.
The other lesson to draw from experiences like mine is that the tools for developing resiliency aren’t instinctive.  As Colin Powell points out in It Worked For Me, social functioning is learned behaviour; this is as true for the human animal as it is in all social species.  Left to our own devices, we tend to fight, flee or circle the wagons and avoid – it’s just how natural selection works.  There’s really not much difference between the playground, Question Period or an episode of Animal Kingdom.  It takes moderators – an elder, a teacher, the Speaker, etc. – to referee social interactions, foster respect and maintain order. 
It also takes leaders to set examples and develop the kind of work or school cultures that manage down this bullying instinct. Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris famously fostered a competitive culture within the Progressive Conservative Party, believing that ambitious people would produce the best results.  Instead, the internal fighting became so toxic to the Party that Harris had to lay down the law for his cabinet ministers.  It’s the exact seem scenario that’s being fueled by the heightened, competitive rancor in Queen’s Park now.  Somewhere along the way, our political leaders have forgotten that it’s possible to be in total disagreement with someone without denigrating them as a consequence.
If we, as a society, want to have a hyper-oppositional culture that fosters survival of the fittest competition, that’s fine – but we’ll also have to accept that victimization and its consequences are part of the package, including the lost productivity, the health care costs and the youth suicides.  If we’re really serious about addressing bullying, we have to realize the only way to do so is proactively – by providing universal resiliency and social-emotional training on the one end and using programs like restorative justice to stifle bullying behaviour on the other.  The most important thing we can do to end bullying, though, is lead by example. 

Collectively Thinking Different

Why do I have hope for the future and faith in what we can accomplish, collectively?

It probably has a lot to do with the fact I constantly get to interact with people like the ladies at Madeleine Collective.

Hong: The way we’ve structured our collective allows the four of us take creative ownership over the projects that we work on. Because we come from diverse backgrounds, we end up exploring ideas from four very different perspectives - we’re always challenging one another to think outside the box. The amazing thing is, the more we work together, the more we understand each other’s styles, and we are constantly changing our approaches to how we function. There is this concept of genius as the ability to combine ideas in unexpected and radical ways. We’re maximizing our genius potential using collective brain-power and the ability to make unexpected connections.

Bazuin: Due to our unique skill sets and our very different personalities, I like to compare us, with sincere reverence, to the perfect combination that exists in the Spice Girls, with each of us sporting a separate yet compatible set of talents (and personal style) that come together to make a strong and sassy group. Collaboration is hard, but to us, collaboration is key. It’s something we’ve worked on and studied within the group because we recognize that effective communication with one another is at the core of our strength and the key to our success.

Why Star Wars is Following Marvel and Why Politicians Should Pay Attention

One-offs are easier to pull off, and are easier to distribute.  That was the premise behind the serial - have a theme, some common characters and put them in zany situations that are resolved within a half hour/hour.  You can play any episode in any order, grab an in-the-moment audience and laugh your way to the bank.

The model works, and continues to work - in a horses-and-bayonets kind of way.  Where the problem lies is that not everyone is sticking to the tried-and-true serial model and are instead building narrative arcs.  It started with the two-parter and has carried on into more complex plots, arcs-within-arcs and as a necessary result more layered, more interesting characters.

There have been risks along the way and some losses, too, but the trend is away from siloed one-offs and moving more and more towards the arc.  Complex shows with complex characters like LOST and Battlestar Galactica may not have had as massive an audience as others, but that audience was loyal, served as an excellent (and free) marketing partner and readily ate up viral marketing, soundtrack purchases and all kinds of other value-add that went along with the product.  

Committing to complex stories and character development hasn't hurt the careers of the developers of these shows, any more than it's hurt Joss Whedon, he of complex stories and teased narratives.  He's now the creative director of Marvel's film/tv franchise.  J.J. Abrams has done a bunch of cool projects since LOST, up to and including Star Wars.

The cross-pollination and value-add model is working wonders for Marvel across the board; they have tv shows and movies and comics, their actors are tweeting and instagraming away while producers tease hints at conferences and media avails.  It's a complex strategy that must have taken (and must continue to take) a great deal of fore-thought and planning to execute, adapt and persevere.  But again, it's working.  Audience are tuning in and even better, they're participating.

There is some secret sauce to the Marvel model (that Star Wars seeks to replicate); they have gotten pretty good at striking a balance between giving each film, series and character it's own space to function and breathe and grow, resulting in some pretty original (and different) directions for the franchise to grow in.  As a result, they have more creative stories, penetrate more markets and build their core constituency by providing a community of experience.

This is a model that's worked pretty well for Apple, too, as it has for many leaders.

It can and will work just as well for politicians, when they get around to thinking different.  We're seeing that start to happen now - Obama's campaign definitely broke new ground and Justin Trudeau's greater team involvement and communication format has been more engaging.

What's lacking, though, is the narrative.  There's no plot development in politics, no Big Idea for people to identify, discover and then explore as it unfolds and marches towards completion.  Instead we have message points, variations on the same theme and vague talk of values and such, but there's no hook, no transition, no real payoffs.  We don't really get to know our politicians as both individuals and participants in a team; there's no sense of trajectory to their stories or that of their Parties.  Policies are provided in serial format, with accomplishments being ticked off like boxes on a page.

It's great that more students are graduating - good for them.  It's lovely seniors are getting more surgical procedures done, and faster.  Love that roads are being paved and digital government strategies are being pursued.  But how do these things connect?  What sustained, building evidence do I have that I want to invest my time, money and votes into what you're going to do next?  Audiences want to know they're in good hands and they don't want you to tell them so - they want to discover it for themselves.  

And when they do, they'll want to participate.